ICE Followed a Child to the Hospital to Detain Her After Surgery

While on her way to the hospital in an ambulance, 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez was stopped and followed by Border Patrol who have since refused to return the child to her family.

After being rushed to a nearby children's hospital on Tuesday morning for emergency surgery, ten-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez was met by immigration officers who stood outside of her recovery room waiting for the child's discharge. Two days later, she is now being held at a child housing facility in San Antonio, Texas against both her family's will and doctor's orders.

The child, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was brought across the US-Mexico border by her mother when she was three months old, and the two have lived as undocumented citizens in Laredo, Texas since. On Tuesday, Rosa required an emergency gall bladder surgery and crossed a Border Patrol interior checkpoint (what the United States Government Accountability Office describes as "the third layer in the Border Patrol's three-tiered border enforcement strategy") in an ambulance to get to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi. Leticia Gonzalez, the Hernandez family lawyer, tells Broadly that Rosa and her cousin Aurora Cantu, a US Citizen who accompanied the child, were then followed by Border Patrol to the hospital.


Read More: Undocumented, and Trapped Between Your Abuser and Deportation

Following Rosa's surgery, Gonzalez says that federal immigration agents waited outside of the child's recovery room and refused to let her family close the door, citing a "directive to keep the child in their line of sight." On a press call organized by the ACLU on Thursday morning, Gonzalez said that Cantu was "distressed, distraught, and shaken" as she witnessed the agents follow Rosa's every move inside the hospital.

"It's stunning that federal agents would be waiting outside of a hospital room of a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy," said Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) on the same call. "They're treating her like a hardened convict."

In direct opposition to the doctor's orders, Border Patrol refused to release Rosa into her parents' custody, instead transporting her to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter. "Rosa Hernandez is a post-operative patient with cerebral palsy and developmental delay. In the best interest of the patient, it is recommended that the patient be discharged to a family member that is familiar with her medical and psychological needs," reads Rosa's discharge order, according to Gonzalez.

"They're treating her like a hardened convict."

The ORR usually takes between 60 and 90 days to determine whether they'll deport someone, according to Gonzalez, who has pleaded that they expedite Rosa's case and allow her to stay with her family in Texas due to her medical condition. But the attorney says the ORR has refused to give her a timeline despite Rosa's doctor's recommendation for follow-up care within the next week.

Rosa's mother, Felipa De La Cruz, said on the press call that Rosa has no clear understanding of what's going on, nor that she is facing deportation. Rosa believes that she is at the ORR shelter to recover from surgery, though De La Cruz says her daughter sobbed when her family was forced to leave her there, and that she continues to ask when she'll be able to go home. "It was a sad day in America," Gonzalez said, recalling the family's distress.

For More Stories Like This, Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Because of De La Cruz's own undocumented status, she is unable to cross the checkpoints that would allow her to physically visit Rosa. On the phone Thursday morning, De La Cruz broke down as she described talking to her daughter, "When I think about her I start to get sad and I become desperate," she said through tears.

At the moment, Rosa's future is uncertain. Though her case seems extreme, similar treatment of undocumented people, regardless of age and health, is becoming more and more commonplace: "Immigration arrest under the Trump Administration has increased by 40 percent," said Representative Castro. "Many of those cases have been like this, of people who were no threat to national security."